Here are Dr Louise Schofield’s 5 quick health and wellbeing tips for high-achieving women of all ages.
1. Guilt is good and shame is shit
What do I mean by that? As humans, we want to live a happy life, and we pursue happiness. However, we need to be careful that doesn’t mean thinking that we need to be happy all the time. A normal human life is ups and downs of emotions. How can we truly be happy if we never experience what it’s like to be sad?
Sometimes with negative emotions, like guilt, anger and anxiety, we think we need to suppress those and not feel that pain.
Negative emotions can have an upside. There is an upside to your downside. Our emotions can be powerful in helping us change behaviour and adopt healthier lifestyles.
Sometimes with negative emotions, like guilt, anger and anxiety, we think we need to suppress those and not feel that pain. But in fact, what I’m suggesting is that they can be quite positive in motivating us, getting us out of the rut, and moving us forward. When anger becomes rage, well, that’s destructive, but the emotion of anger can really drive you forward and make you succeed and do better than you ever thought was possible. So the next time you get angry about something, don’t think that you shouldn’t be angry and you need to suppress it. Think about how that might help you achieve your next goal.
Anxiety. We seem to have a lot of anxiety in our society today, and there’s a lot of talk about how not to be anxious. How to suppress it. Well, I’m here to tell you that some anxiety is good for us. It makes us prepare more. It makes us concentrate. It focuses us. When anxiety is too much, and it becomes depression or distress, then absolutely, that’s no good and we need to get help, but a little bit of anxiety in your own life, or your children’s life, that’s not a bad thing.
Sometimes it feels like to be female is to be guilty.
And the same goes for guilt. Being a female generally means at some point you’re going to feel quite guilty. Are you spending enough time with your husband or your partner? Are you giving the kids enough of your attention? Do you give enough of yourself at work? Sometimes it feels like to be female is to be guilty. And what I’m saying is that’s okay, because guilt can help you. Guilt can be good, and it can help motivate you to change behaviour. But when guilt becomes shame, that’s when it’s destructive, and that’s when I want you to jump in and stop it.
What’s the difference between guilt and shame? Guilt is, ‘I probably shouldn’t have had those two glasses of wine and five TimTams last night. That’s not going to help me with my weight loss goals. That’s not going to help me have a lot of clarity today at work’. That’s guilt. That’s all good. Shame is, ‘I’m a bad person. I drank two glasses of wine. I’m useless. I’ve got no self-control. I wish I hadn’t done that. I’m never going to be any good. I’m not good enough’. Shame hides away in the dark. It’s a destructive feeling.
Don’t let guilt turn to shame, but don’t suppress some of those negative emotions, like anxiety, anger, and guilt, because they can be positive in helping you change behaviour.
2. The DBT rule
D stands for distract, B stands for breathe, and T stands for time. The next time you feel like having two Chelsea buns, a doughnut, a Mars Bar, a glass of wine or two, and you don’t want to – it’s a behaviour you’re trying to change – try the DBT rule.
- First of all, distract yourself. Often, you’re just bored. Great ways to distract yourself are exercising, going for a walk, going for a run, going to the gym, having a hot bath. Try reading a book, or doing something pleasurable that you enjoy.
Sometimes that won’t be enough.
- Number two, breathe. Take five slow deep breaths. Deep belly breathing, one hand on your chest, one hand on your stomach. Breathe in slowly and deeply for the count of five. Breathe out for the count of seven. The reason that your hand is on your stomach is that when you breathe slowly and deeply, you should feel that hand go out, not the one on your chest. If your chest expands more, that would indicate you’re breathing very shallowly.
And finally, you’ve distracted yourself. You’ve taken five deep breaths. You still feel like having the doughnut.
- Then, take time – take five minutes and sit with the feeling that you’re trying to distract yourself from, the uncomfortableness. What is it? What is driving you to want to have the chocolate bar, the two glasses of wine, whatever it is? Sit with the pain, the uncomfortable feeling. That’s okay. Sometimes it will simply pass. As I said before, we don’t have to spend every waking moment in a state of resonance and happiness. That’s not normal. That’s not the normal human experience.
So the DBT rule is a simple technique to help you get over those moments that happen to everyone, that will sabotage your health goals. Eight times out of 10, if you use the DBT rule, you won’t end up drinking the wine, having the chocolate bar, whatever it is. You won’t do it.
If you’re human like me, two times out of 10, you’ll probably still go ahead. But at least you’ll be doing it from a place where you’re cognitively engaged. You might do it more mindfully. You might enjoy it more. You’ll go slow. You probably won’t over-drink, overeat, or overdo it, because you have slowed yourself down and you’re in the moment.
3. The power of a polite ‘no’
This is a great tip for women of all ages, but particularly you women out there who are in your thirties. You’ve got young children, you’re working in a busy job, you’re used to doing a lot, and you say yes to everyone – your parents, your parents-in-law, your husband, your children, your work colleagues. You’re really good at saying yes, and you really like to be liked.
But when you say yes to everything, you are actually saying no to someone. Often it’s yourself. Often it’s the people you really care about.
4. Confidence + bottom-lining = respect
In my role here at PreKure, I regularly have to run team meetings. We’ve got some really high-performing males and females on the PreKure team. And every couple of weeks, we come together for a team meeting. I ask everyone in the team to share their answers to three questions: What are you most proud of over the last two weeks? What are you most challenged by? And finally, what are you going to be focused on in the coming two weeks?
Now, without a doubt, there is a clear difference in the way the males in the PreKure team answer the first question – what are you most proud of – to the females. What happens is my high-achieving male team members, they clearly articulate what they’ve achieved. They’re clearly proud of it. They’ll take ownership of their achievements, and you can see in their whole posture and the way they speak that they are confident and proud.
Remember to articulate and take ownership of the good things that you do, and finally, combine confidence with the skill of bottom-lining.
I see a clear difference when some of my equally high-achieving female team members answer that question. Some of them begin with an apology. Most of them attribute the success to other people. Not always a bad thing, but at their own detriment. And sometimes they will say, “I’m not sure. I’m not really proud of anything”. And yet I know they’ve done some amazing things over the last two weeks. Having confidence is really important. It breeds success. Remember to articulate and take ownership of the good things that you do, and finally, combine confidence with the skill of bottom-lining.
Bottom-lining is the ability to say something with clarity and succinctness and no waffle. If you can bottom-line effectively, particularly in work meetings and on committees, you will gain a lot of respect. So think about, what am I trying to say? What’s the bottom line? And then say it with confidence and clarity and brevity.
5. Keep setting big goals
Many of us think that goal-setting is something that you do when you’re young, maybe in your teenage years or in your twenties, maybe your thirties. But certainly once you get to your forties and fifties, well, you don’t need that anymore. I’m here to tell you that’s not true. Success is about hitting multiple moving targets. And how do you do that? You do that by continually setting goals.
If you’re stuck in a rut, if life is not exciting anymore, if you’re bored, then it might be time to design the life you want to live. It might be time to revisit some goal-setting.
For many of us, particularly those of us who are now in middle age, the problem is not that we aimed too high and missed, but rather that we’ve aimed too low and hit. If that’s you, if you’re stuck in a rut, if life is not exciting anymore, if you’re bored, then it might be time to design the life you want to live. It might be time to revisit some goal-setting.
Set goals, make them big, and go for it, but be happy in the moment and on the journey to achieving them.
You know how to do this. Set specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-based goals (SMART goals). Make them big. Make them audacious. One little caveat with that is, don’t put your happiness on hold while you wait to achieve that goal. For example, many of us, particularly us females, tend to have this ongoing issue with weight. And we say, “When I lose five kilos, then I’ll be happy. When I lose 10 kilos, then I’ll be really happy”. What a load of bollocks. Don’t put your happiness on hold, waiting for those goals to happen. Absolutely set goals, make them big, and go for it, but be happy in the moment and on the journey to achieving them.
- Take action to change your life!
- Behaviour change: Start with the ‘why’
- Building your resilience – what are your risk factors and protective factors?
- Antifragility: What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger